#Fishing - Marine Minister Michael Creed signed into law conservation measures concerning Irish velvet crab stocks as he hosted the 12th meeting of the National Inshore Fisheries Forum (NIFF) today, Wednesday 27 September.
The Inshore Fisheries Forum structures, which include the NIFF and six Regional Inshore Fisheries Forums (RIFFs), were established in 2014 to foster stakeholder-led development of proposals for the inshore fishing sector.
As well as moved to protect Irish velvet crab, the minister also introduced measures to regulate fishing activities affecting Natura 2000 sites at Hook Head and the Saltee Islands.
Regulations signed by Minister Creed today will introduce a Minimum Conservation Reference Size (MCRS) of 65mm for velvet crab that will apply to Irish sea fishing boats from 1 January 2018.
This measure was initially developed by the West Regional Inshore Fisheries Forum (RIFF) with advice from the Marine Institute. The proposal was brought to the minister last year by the NIFF, and a public consultation on the measure was held at the end of 2016.
Velvet crab are fished all year, but mainly in the March to October period, and they are predominantly a by-catch in the lobster fishery. Landings of velvet crab into Ireland were 406 tonnes in 2015, higher than any year since 2004, and were valued at just under €808,000. Over 80% of velvet crabs are landed by vessels less than 10 metres in length.
Additionally, a Fisheries Natura Declaration signed by Minister Creed today will restrict fishing using dredge and trawling gear for scallop fishing to protect certain sensitive habitats in Natura 2000 conservation sites off the southeast coast of Wexford from 30 November.
The Natura 2000 sites include the Hook Head and Saltee Islands SACs (Special Areas of Conservation). The declaration also sets down monitoring and notification requirements for boats fishing using dredge and trawling gear within these habitats.
These gear and monitoring measures were developed through industry members working with the Marine Institute and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) to address risks to sensitive habitats in the Hook Head and Saltee Islands SACs. The risks were identified by the Marine Institute in a 2014 risk assessment report of sea-fishing activities in Natura 2000 sites in the Irish Sea.
Industry members – including individual scallop fishermen, members of the Southeast RIFF and representatives of the Irish South and East Fish Producers Organisation (ISEFPO) – met with the Marine Institute and BIM through 2015 and 2016 to develop risk mitigation proposals for the fishery. A public consultation on the resulting Mitigation Response Plan was carried out in 2016.
These measures are being introduced following full consultation with the Inshore Fisheries Forum structures.
“Heading into their third year, the forums have taken a lead in tackling conservation issues and changing practices with a view to long-term sustainability,” said Minister Creed. “I welcome the support these measures have received from the Forums which reflects the mature approach this sector is taking in dealing with its own challenges.”
Minister Creed and the NIFF discussed the implementation of the new measures and the status of other measures under review for important stocks such as lobster, brown crab and razor clams.
The minister also discussed the impact of Brexit on the fishing sector and the UK’s intention to withdraw from the London Fisheries Convention, which governs access to waters inside the 12-mile limit.
Commenting on issues arising for the sector from Brexit, Minister Creed noted: “While the implications of Brexit are far from clear at this point in time, I will continue to highlight Irish fisheries concerns on the EU agenda and work with other impacted EU member states and the Barnier team to ensure that fisheries are not isolated in the overall negotiations on a new EU/UK relationship.”